In 2015, residents of Canberra, Australia discovered a sheep that had wandered from it’s flock over six years ago, resulting in a coat of wool weighing over ninety pounds, two times the body weight of the poor sheep. Fearing the sheep would not be able to live much longer in this condition, a team of five sheared the fleece off “Chris”, who could barely walk before the intervention. Officials were amazed Chris had survived this long in the wild and awarded his fleece the Guinness World Record for most wool ever sheared.
In mid 19th century, when the church assumed responsibility for the faith formation of children in the form of Sunday school, the proverbial sheep began to wander from the flock of the home. In the latter part of the 20th century, the professionalization of youth ministry began to silo off young people, straying the sheep further from the flock of the home as well as the greater congregational body. Looking at congregations today, many resemble less a tight-knit flock and more several separate wooly sheep, off in their own pastures of children’s church, youth worship, singles and parent groups, and senior ministries. Sure they may survive a while and perhaps even look great as far as sheer numbers are concerned, but studies of the dwindling church have confirmed that this model of isolation is ultimately hurting much more than it’s helping.
Read anything by David Anderson of Vibrant Faith Ministries, Rich Melheim of Faith Inkubators, Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute, or Kenda Creasy Dean of Princeton Theological Seminary (seriously, please do) and you will learn that most adults living mature and authentic faith lives can name five or more trusted, influential Christian adults who cared for and affirmed them early on in their journey. If we as church continue to count on just one Sunday school teacher or youth director to be responsible for the faith development of all our students (yes, they are ours, claimed at baptism), we are doing a disservice to everyone. Instead of one adult being in charge of 20+ kids, what if 20 adults in your congregation knew the name of and were invested in the life of one child? Well, that would involve bringing the sheep back into the flock. And that will take time, intentionality and creativity.
As Good Shepherd Lutheran Church enters into this journey of bringing it’s flock back together, I will share the stories here. In your setting, where do you see cross+generational relationships forming? Where do you see potential?